On the last Sunday of November, UK Cabaret managing editor Mark Ritchie and his wife Beverley, spent the evening at the 127th annual Grand Order of Water Rats Ball. This is a massive and glittering show business evening, which benefits a number of worthy causes. Mark met and chatted with some of the stars and reports on how the evening went.
Where did The Grand Order of Waters Rats find such a strange name? As the story goes, a Victorian music hall comedian owned a racehorse, which was also used to pull a small carriage around, transporting performers to their shows. One night the horse was so wet and bedraggled that someone commented that the animal resembled a drowned water rat. At a meeting between various music hall stars of the day, someone pointed out what the word Rats spelled when written backwords and a whole show business story of charity and altruism began.
I was incredibly pleased to receive a personal invitation to attend last month’s ball from The King Rat himself, comedian Ian Richards. Along with my wife Beverley, we took a train down to London town.
Such jaunts were frequent during my 16 years as regional representative for The Stage newspaper. It struck me as rather ironic that 200 copies of The Stage had been dumped in the reception area of The Great Room, at the splendidly appointed Grosvenor House Hotel. I scanned the pages and there was virtually no light entertainment editorial content within the publication these days. I could have kicked myself on the night, that I didn’t arrange for a couple of hundred copies of our magazine to be displayed in the same way.
At the champagne reception, which preceded the evenings events, I mingled and chatted with stars and Water rat luminaries. It was my pleasure to chat with Scribe Rat Mike Martin, who like me also is no longer a Stage newspaper contributor. He is a UK Cabaret subscriber however and Mike’s praise on our progress was extremely gratifying. I also chatted to various UK Cabaret subscribers, including the retired singer Jackie Hanson and star performer Kev Orkian. As was the case with the knots of other show business folk right across the room, we chatted and yarned, quaffing the champagne, until dinner time arrived.
Descending the ornate staircases from the mezzanine landing, into The Great Room itself, my personal focus was on the wonderful, glittering chandeliers. My wife however, was more preoccupied with her gown, which was very long and quite a sartorial trip hazard.
We were seated on one of the five VIP tables and I was delighted to be within chatting distance of Queen guitarist Brian May and his wife, the actress Anita Dobson. Other stars seated very close by were the Hairy Bikers chefs, Jimmy Tarbuck and Argentinian football superstar Ossie Ardiles.
The female counterparts of the Water Rats are the Lady Ratlings. It was good to see the present Queen Ratling, Bella Emberg at the top table. I have promised another of the Lady Ratlings, UK Cabaret subscriber Mandy Winters, that we will offer coverage to the fine work the ladies of that grand order involve themselves in very soon.
Comedian Ian Irving made a fine job of a pre-dinner game of Heads and Tails, which raised a lot of money on the night. I was delighted to note that many people seemed to have noticed the magnificent advert of ours, which adorned the pages of the glossiest of glossy Water Rats brochures.
There is a real chance that a newly released recording from a band called Song Unite, who performed a great new song, will hit the pop charts. The Complex Needs group encourage and mentor adult musicians with learning difficulties.
The charity auction produced many thousands of pounds for chosen charities and comedian Adger Brown was as witty and engaging as ever, during his spot of comedy auctioneering.
The pupils of the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School gave a scintillatingly skilful, musical theatre style performance, which was well deserving of the standing ovation afforded to them.
Comedian Johnnie Casson gave us his comedy speech from the top table and his contribution was a massive highlight.
Excellent speeches were made by the ever charming and urbane Nicholas Parsons and the lovely Anita Dobson, before comedian Jimmy Tarbuck was presented with a life achievement award. His acceptance speech was a classic!
Other awards were presented on the night to Trustee of the Water Rats Chris Emmett and Water Rats official photographer John McKenzie.
As top of the bill attraction, Joe Longthorne was in fine fettle and his Orchestra, led by MD Andy Mudd, delighted everyone with their hour-long set.
A late-night dance band by the name of Mixed Feelings played the revellers out at around 1.30am and another Water Rats ball was over and done. As King Rat, Ian Richards has enjoyed massive success during 2016. Seated on the King Rat throne, Ian looked suitably proud. His parents, both in the audience were perhaps the only people in the Great Room who were prouder still.
The last word really should go to King Rat. Ian Richards told us:’ The evening brought together all that is good about show business. I look forward to presenting another such evening and serving as King Rat next year. Over 5000 positive comments on social media, during the week following the ball, really said it all’ Here’s to next year!